Tag Archives: Middle East

Pentagon Acknowledges U.S. Contractor Presence In Syria For First Time

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Contractors in Iraq and Syria

Image:  “Defense One”

“AL MONITOR”

“The US military is using more than 5,500 contractors in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, the Pentagon revealed in a quarterly report this week that acknowledges the use of contractors in the Syrian war zone for the first time.

The latest figures from US Central Command indicate that 5,508 US and foreign contractors are working alongside US troops in the two combat zones.”

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“That’s an increase of 581, or 12%, over January’s numbers, which did not include Syria. About half of the contractors are US citizens, while the rest are local or third-country hires.

The disclosure comes as President Donald Trump has signaled his desire to pull US troops out of Syria “very soon” after the end of the counter-IS mission. The role of contractors in Syria is also under increasing scrutiny after hundreds of Russian contractors died in a battle with US troops and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the oil-rich Deir ez-Zor province, as CIA Director and Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo publicly confirmed in his Senate confirmation hearing April 12.

Unlike the Russians, however, the US contractors are mostly focused on supporting the 2,000 US troops in Syria by delivering hot meals, gasoline and other supplies. More than 30% of them support logistics and maintenance, according to the quarterly Pentagon report, and another 27% help with support and construction of US military outposts in the region.

“It’s not the Russian contractor role in Syria, which is … deploying tactical military units of squad company size,” said Peter Singer, a senior fellow and strategist at the New America think tank in Washington. “It’s the old stuff that Halliburton used to do.”

More than 400 “security” contractors are also involved in the fight in both countries, but “you’re not seeing the 163rd private US military group invading a city in Syria,” Singer said. Russian military contractors are also helping to protect oil fields across the country, protecting an industry that represented a quarter of Syria’s government revenue in 2010.

Though previous Defense Department personnel reports in the region hadn’t mentioned a Pentagon contractor presence in Syria, the US Department of Labor acknowledged in a report last year that two contractors were killed and six injured in fiscal year 2017. The Pentagon numbers don’t represent contractors working for other US agencies, such as the State Department, which assists with demining.

The Pentagon’s admission comes after an awkward back-and-forth between Trump and his top military and diplomatic advisers at a National Security Council meeting last week. While the president wants to declare victory on IS and pull out, the Pentagon has asked the commander-in-chief to leave US forces in Syria to prevent insurgent cells from regrouping along Syria’s border with Iraq.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of US Central Command, said at a public event last week, “The hard part is in front of us” in the war-torn country. Less than a mile away at the White House, Trump appeared to contradict US pledges to stay in the Syria fight at an open Cabinet meeting after long expressing his frustration over US military spending in the Middle East. The White House also recently announced a $200 million cut in funds earmarked for stabilizing Syria.

Despite their nonkinetic role, some experts say contractors face many of the same dangers as the US troops and Syrian forces who battled Russian mercenaries in February. With IS on the run and multiple US antagonists ready to push out the United States and its allies, civilian personnel risk getting caught in the crossfire.

“I would give America a six-month honeymoon here,” said Joshua Landis, the director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies. “Turkey, Syria and Iran are just sitting there, waiting to stick shivs in us.”

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/04/pentagon-acknowledge-us-contractor-presence-syria-iraq.html

 

 

 

 

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What Was the Vietnam War About?

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Vietnam All About

A group of South Vietnamese army soldiers and an American soldier with two captured Vietcong suspects, in Plaines des Joncs, South Vietnam. Credit Tim Page/Corbis, via Getty Images

“THE NEW YORK TIMES”

“If we continue to excuse American conduct in Vietnam as a well-intentioned, if tragic, intervention rather than a purposeful assertion of imperial power, we are less likely to challenge current war managers who have again mired us in apparently endless wars based on false or deeply misleading pretexts. 

Just as in the Vietnam era, American leaders have ordered troops to distant lands based on boundless abstractions (“the global war on terror” instead of the global threat of “international Communism”).

And once again, their mission is to prop up governments that demonstrate no capacity to gain the necessary support of their people.”


“Was America’s war in Vietnam a noble struggle against Communist aggression, a tragic intervention in a civil conflict, or an imperialist counterrevolution to crush a movement of national liberation? Those competing interpretations ignited fiery debates in the 1960s and remain unresolved today. How we name and define this most controversial of American wars is not a narrow scholarly exercise, but profoundly shapes public memory of its meaning and ongoing significance to American national identity and foreign policy.

During the war years, America’s leaders insisted that military force was necessary to defend a sovereign nation — South Vietnam — from external Communist aggression. As President Lyndon B. Johnson put it in 1965, “The first reality is that North Vietnam has attacked the independent nation of South Vietnam. Its object is total conquest.”

Even more disturbing, Johnson quickly added (following a script written by his predecessors Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy), the Communists in Vietnam were supported and guided by the Soviet Union and China. Therefore, the war in South Vietnam was not an isolated, local conflict, irrelevant to American national security, but rather one that was inseparable from the nation’s highest priority — the Cold War struggle to contain Communism around the globe. Further raising the stakes, policymakers warned that if South Vietnam fell to Communism, neighboring countries would inevitably fall in turn, one after another, like a row of dominoes.

Three decades later, Robert McNamara, a key architect of the Vietnam War who served as defense secretary for both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, renounced those wartime claims — the very ones he and others had invoked to justify the war. In two books, “In Retrospect” (1995) and “Argument Without End” (2000), McNamara conceded that the United States had been “terribly wrong” to intervene in Vietnam. He attributed the failure to a lack of knowledge and judgment. If only he had understood the fervor of Vietnamese nationalism, he wrote, if only he had known that Hanoi was not the pawn of Beijing or Moscow, if only he had realized that the domino theory was wrong, he might have persuaded his presidential bosses to withdraw from Vietnam. Millions of lives would have been saved. If only.

In fact, however, in the 1960s, when McNamara advocated massive military escalation in Vietnam, he simply rejected or ignored any evidence that contradicted Cold War orthodoxy. It’s not as if contrary views were unavailable. In the work of the scholar-journalist Bernard Fall, the pages of I. F. Stone’s Weekly, speeches at university teach-ins and antiwar rallies and countless other venues, critics pointed out that after World War II the United States made a clear choice to support the French effort to re-establish its colonial rule in Indochina, and eventually assumed the bulk of France’s cost for the first Indochina War. It should have been no surprise, therefore, that Vietnamese revolutionaries perceived the United States as a neocolonial power when it committed its own military forces in the next war.

Moreover, critics argued, the primary roots of opposition to the American-backed government in Saigon were indigenous and deep rooted, not just in North Vietnam, but throughout the South.

Indeed, from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s the bulk of Communist-led fighting was carried out by southern guerrillas of the National Liberation Front, known to its enemies as the Vietcong. Only after the war was well underway did large units from North Vietnam arrive on the southern front. Antiwar opponents also challenged the claim that South Vietnam was an “independent nation” established by the Geneva Accords of 1954. Those agreements called for a temporarypartition of Vietnam to be shortly followed by a nationwide election to choose a single leader for a unified Vietnam. When it became clear to both Saigon and Washington that the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh would be the overwhelming victor, the South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem, with American support, decided to cancel the election.

Thus began a two-decade failed effort to build a permanent country called “South Vietnam.” The government in Saigon was never a malleable puppet of the United States, but it was nonetheless wholly dependent on American military and economic support to survive against its enemies, including many non-Communist parties and factions in the South.

Armed with these criticisms, many opponents of American policy in the 1960s described Vietnam as a civil war — not like the relatively clear-cut North-South division of the American Civil War, but a nationwide struggle of Communist-led forces of the South and North against the American-backed government in the South. By 1966, this analysis was even embraced by some mainstream politicians, including Senator William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Eugene McCarthy, who ran as an antiwar presidential candidate in 1968. Both men called attention to the “South Vietnamese civil war” to emphasize the strength of the southern insurgency and the failure of the Saigon government to gain the broad support of its own people.

By 1972, the idea that Vietnam posed a threat to Cold War America was so discredited, it sometimes sounded as if America’s only remaining war aim was to get back its P.O.W.s (President Richard Nixon bizarrely claimed that Hanoi was using them as “negotiating pawns”). Even more mind-boggling were Nixon’s historic 1972 trips to Beijing and Moscow. Many Americans wondered how Nixon could offer toasts of peace to Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev while still waging war in Vietnam. As the journalist Jonathan Schell put it, “If these great powers were not, after all, the true foe,” then the war in Vietnam “really was a civil war in a small country, as its opponents had always said, and the United States had no business taking part in it.”

But alongside the “civil war” interpretation, a more radical critique developed — the view that America’s enemy in Vietnam was engaged in a long-term war for national liberation and independence, first from the French and then the United States. According to this position, the war was best understood not as a Cold War struggle between East and West, or a Vietnamese civil war, but as an anticolonial struggle, similar to dozens of others that erupted throughout the Third World in the wake of World War II. When the French were defeated by Vietnamese revolutionaries (despite enormous American support), the United States stepped in directly to wage a counterrevolutionary war against an enemy determined to achieve full and final independence from foreign control.

This interpretation was shared by many on the antiwar left, including Daniel Ellsberg, the once-hawkish defense analyst who turned so strongly against the war that he was willing to sabotage his career by making public 7,000 pages of classified documents about the history of the Vietnam War, the so-called Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg made his argument most succinctly in the 1974 documentary “Hearts and Minds.”

“The name for a conflict in which you are opposing a revolution is counterrevolution,” he said. “A war in which one side is entirely financed and equipped and supported by foreigners is not a civil war.” The question used to be, he added, “might it be possible that we were on the wrong side in the Vietnamese war. We weren’t on the wrong side; we are the wrong side.”

In the decades since 1975, all three major interpretations have persisted. Some writers and historians have embraced President Ronald Reagan’s view that the war was a “noble cause” that might have been won. That position has failed to persuade most specialists in the field, in large part because it greatly exaggerates the military and political virtues and success of the United States and the government of South Vietnam. It also falls short because it depends on counterfactual claims that victory would have been achieved if only the United States had extended its support for Diem (instead of greenlighting his overthrow), or tried a different military strategy, or done a better job winning hearts and minds. However, the war as it was actually conducted by the United States and its allies was a disaster by every measure.

In recent decades, a number of historians — particularly younger scholars trained in Vietnamese and other languages — have developed various versions of the civil war interpretation. Some of them view the period after the French defeat in 1954 as “post-colonial,” a time in which long-brewing internal conflicts between competing versions of Vietnamese nationalism came to a head. As the historian Jessica Chapman of Williams College puts it, “The Vietnam War was, at its core, a civil war greatly exacerbated by foreign intervention.” Others have described it as a civil war that became “internationalized.”

While these scholars have greatly enhanced our knowledge of the complexity and conflict in Vietnamese history, politics and culture, they don’t, in my view, assign enough responsibility to the United States for causing and expanding the war as a neocolonial power.

Let’s try a thought experiment. What if our own Civil War bore some resemblance to the Vietnamese “civil war”? For starters, we would have to imagine that in 1860 a global superpower — say Britain — had strongly promoted Southern secession, provided virtually all of the funding for the ensuing war and dedicated its vast military to the battle. We must also imagine that in every Southern state, local, pro-Union forces took up arms against the Confederacy. Despite enormous British support, Union forces prevailed. What would Americans call such a war? Most, I think, would remember it as the Second War of Independence. Perhaps African-Americans would call it the First War of Liberation. Only former Confederates and the British might recall it as a “civil war.”

I would reverse Chapman’s formula and say that the Vietnam War was, at its core, an American war that exacerbated Vietnamese divisions and internationalized the conflict. It is true, of course, that many Vietnamese opposed the Communist path to national liberation, but no other nationalist party or faction proved capable of gaining enough support to hold power. Without American intervention, it is hard to imagine that South Vietnam would have come into being or, if it did, that it would have endured for long.

Moreover, no other foreign nation deployed millions of troops to South Vietnam (although the United States did pressure or pay a handful of other nations, Australia and South Korea most notably, to send smaller military forces). And no other foreign nation or opponent dropped bombs (eight million tons!) on South and North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The introduction of that staggering lethality was the primary driver of a war that cost three million lives, half of them civilians.

Once again, the United States has waged brutal counterinsurgencies guaranteed to maim, kill or displace countless civilians. It has exacerbated international violence and provoked violent retaliation.

Our leaders, then and now, have insisted that the United States is “the greatest force for good in the world” that wants nothing for itself, only to defeat “terror” and bring peace, stability and self-determination to other lands. The evidence does not support such a claim. We need a new, cleareyed vision of our global conduct. A more critical appraisal of the past is one place to start.”

“Drone Warrior” – A Stunning First Hand Memoir

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Amazon.com
GQ.com

After a careful review by the Intelligence Community for Publication, Drone Warrior has performed a stunning service, giving the reader a gut level feel for the U.S. War on Terror from a decorated soldier’s perspective. 

Those of us who served in Vietnam and similar conflicts since can totally relate to this masterpiece of  honesty.  

Brett Velicovich pulls no punches. The mental stress, teamwork, tragedy and after effects in this modern, technological killing process can be felt with every line.  The impact on the man himself and on those with whom he worked has not been spared in its detail and its effects. 

Having left the service, Brett is now involved in harnessing and controlling the technology for peaceful purposes like wildlife preservation and management.  Those of us who have made similar transitions applaud, commend and recommend the book and the man. 

Read it to become informed and consider the billions we are spending on this warfare today as well as the impact on our youth and our future. 

Drone Warrior

Confronting America’s Misguided Drone Program

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Misguided Drone Program

Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt

“THE NATIONAL INTEREST” By

“American citizens deserve to be protected and defended by our government, and that must never change.

But when the instrument that government and military leaders use to accomplish that goal instead causes serious emotional damage to the citizens operating the equipment, kills and alienates those we wish to protect overseas, and perversely creates more enemy fighters than it ever removes from the battlefield, dramatic changes are required.”


“The use of armed drone warfare by the United States has proliferated since 9/11. Advocates of the program say it is essential to American national security. These claims are far from convincing—more on that below. What gets very little examination one way or the other, however, is the effect these operations have on the U.S. personnel that serve within the drone-warfare system, and virtually none on the so-called “collateral damage” inflicted on innocents by errant or mistaken strikes.

That begins to change on Monday night, with the airing on PBS of National Bird, winner of the 2017 Ridenhour Documentary Film Award, a film that beautifully—and hauntingly—illuminates both.

Longtime investigative journalist and filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck was doing research on the drone program in 2013. “I had seen lots of commentary and opinion in media on the subject,” Kennebeck told me in a recent interview, “but couldn’t find a lot of verifiable facts or reactions from people directly involved.” The more she discovered, the more fascinating she found the subject matter, and the greater her interest in broadening the scope of the project. There came a key moment, however, when she realized the project deserved to be more than simply an opinion article.

One of the subjects of the film, Heather (only first names are used in the documentary), had recently left the Air Force after serving as an intelligence analyst in the drone program. “When I met Heather the first time she told me not only had she’d struggled with suicide because of all she had seen and experienced, three of her former Air Force colleagues from the program have already taken their own lives. At that point I knew I had to do a film,” Kennebeck explained.

As the documentary details, Heather struggled mightily after she left the Air Force because of the role she played in the deaths of numerous people that were killed in drone strikes. Very often, she explained, when targets were killed with the missile, many people around them were obliterated, body parts flying in all directions. The film also featured the experiences of two other American operators, Daniel and Lisa, who suffered trauma similar to Heather.

One of the reasons Kennebeck produced this film was to shine a light on aspects of the program that get little to no public exposure. “The public needs to understand how many people are being killed,” she said, “what countries drones are being operated in, and ultimately there needs to be more regulation because the technology has outpaced our legal and moral frameworks. Policy and rules need to catch up.”

The drone program’s efficacy in attaining U.S. security objectives desperately needs to be assessed. Advocates of drone warfare virtually dismiss the problems without examination, and instead focus on what they cite as the compelling justification. A Brookings report in defense of drone warfare argued that the United States “cannot tolerate terrorist safe havens in remote parts of Pakistan and elsewhere, and drones offer a comparatively low-risk way of targeting these areas.” Like other reports advocating the use of drones, the Brookings study cites the body count as evidence of success.

“U.S. drones have killed an estimated 3,300 al Qaeda, Taliban, and other jihadist operatives in Pakistan and Yemen,” the report’s authors claim. What is not addressed, however, is the extent to which these operations reduce terrorist threats to the United States. By any rational assessment, the terrorist threat has continued to dramatically increase—not decline—as the use of drones has risen. If more than three thousand Al Qaeda terrorists had been killed, we should have seen a serious degradation in their capability and a corresponding increase in our security. Instead, Dr. Michael Shank, professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, has considerable experience on the ground in the locations where many drone strikes occur, and provides a sobering on-the-ground perspective.

“Working in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan, it’s clear that drones are creating more enemies than the U.S. claims to ever kill,” Dr. Shank wrote in a recent email message. “Drones are quickly turning the general population – many of whom the U.S. would classify as the ‘good guys’ – against America.”

The United States generally considers its enemy population to be a finite number of bad people that can be eliminated, he explained, but such thinking exposes a limited understanding of physics (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) and psychology. “For every so-called ‘bad guy’ killed by a drone strike,” Dr. Shank wrote, “there will be another person who witnessed that strike and who is motivated to assume the newly dead adversary’s antagonism.”

National Bird provides a moving example of how American drones impact those we otherwise seek to defend. In 2010, the United States admitted it accidentally struck a three-vehicle convoy in Afghanistan with Hellfire missiles and rockets that it mistakenly thought was affiliated with the Taliban. Instead, the vehicles contained mostly members of an extended family—twenty-three of whom were killed in the attack, including a number of children—that had no relation to the insurgency. There is a telling moment in the film when the surviving members are sitting outside, telling the story of that day, when helicopters happen to fly overhead. Their faces immediately register palpable fear as they relive that harrowing moment.”

National Bird premieres on Independent Lens Monday, May 1, 2017, 10:00-11:30 PM ET (check local listings) on PBS.

Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after twenty-one years, including four combat deployments.

Image: An MQ-9 Reaper flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-skeptics/confronting-americas-misguided-drone-program-20428?page=2&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=EBB%204.02.2017&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

How Did Hezbollah Get U.S. Armored Personnel Carriers?

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m113

Image:  Sgt. Youtoy Martin/U.S. Army

“THE WASHINGTON POST’

“For the past 15 years as American wares have been distributed wholesale to those willing to fight for U.S. causes.

U.S. equipment falling into the hands of extremist groups and regional opponents has been a recurring theme in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

The armored personnel carrier, known as the M113, is one of the United States’ most ubiquitous armored vehicles and has been in service since the 1960s. The tracked semi-rhombus-shaped vehicle comes in numerous variants and can be outfitted to carry troops and artillery; its chassis was even used as the basis for a nuclear-missile carrier. It has appeared in every major U.S. conflict since the Vietnam War and is used by U.S. police departments and dozens of others countries’ militaries around the world.

As a prominent political and military entity in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s possession of the vehicles could support the theory floated by the defense analyst Tobias Schneider, who tweeted that the personnel carriers were probably taken from the Lebanese Armed Forces, a major recipient of U.S. military aid.

Over the summer, the Lebanese military took possession of dozens of pieces of artillery, armored vehicles, semiautomatic grenade launchers and 1,000 tons of ammunition — all worth about $50 million — as part of the United States’ ongoing efforts to bolster the country’s capacity to fight extremists. The shipment, overseen by the Pentagon and the State Department, brought the amount of U.S. military aid sent to Lebanon in 2016 to $221 million, according to U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth H. Richard.

While Lebanese smugglers have helped move weapons and ammunition to opposition groups in Syria, cases of Lebanese military equipment appearing in the conflict have been rare. In a tweet, the Lebanese military denied that the M113s were taken from its stocks, a claim backed up by a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue.

“The Lebanese military has publicly stated that the M113s depicted online were never part of their equipment roster,” the official said. “Our initial assessment concurs: The M113s allegedly in Hezbollah’s possession in Syria are unlikely to have come from the Lebanese military. We are working closely with our colleagues in the Pentagon and in the Intelligence Community on to resolve this issue.”

Closely aligned with Iran and Syria, Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Syrian government troops since the beginning of the conflict.

The Hezbollah M113s appear to be an older variant, and U.S. officials said they are inclined to believe that vehicles came from the disintegration of the Southern Lebanese Army, or SLA. The SLA was an Israeli-allied and supplied Christian militia that fought during the Lebanese civil war. Its military equipment was ultimately absorbed by Hezbollah in the early 2000s when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon.

In 1985, Israel supplied 20 M113s to the SLA, according to arms transfer data provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. From 1984 to 1996, Israel provided more than 130 armored vehicles, tanks and artillery pieces to the SLA, according to the data. Another possibility, as pointed out by Schneider in subsequent tweets, is that Hezbollah took them from Syria’s recently renamed al-Qaeda affiliate, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. It is unclear where al-Nusra got its M113s.

U.S. equipment falling into the hands of extremist groups and regional opponents has been a recurring theme in the Middle East and southwest Asia for the past 15 years as American wares have been distributed wholesale to those willing to fight for U.S. causes. Armored vehicles, weapons, night-vision devices and body armor have been diverted from places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, subsequently showing up on battlefields throughout the region.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/11/16/hezbollah-has-u-s-armored-personnel-carriers-but-how-did-they-get-them/

 

 

 

 

A Different Path to War

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new-rules

“WAR ON THE ROCKS”

“Americans today enjoy a measure of safety that our ancestors would envy and that our contemporaries do envy.

We generally do not need to wage war to keep it that way.

On the contrary, some recent wars have degraded the U.S. military and undermined our security. Policymakers should therefore be extremely reluctant to risk American lives abroad.

The U.S. military is the finest fighting force in the world; it comprises dedicated professionals who are willing and able to fight almost anywhere, practically on a moment’s notice. Any military large enough to defend our vital national security interests will always be capable of intervening in distant disputes. But that does not mean that it should. Policymakers have an obligation to carefully weigh the most momentous decision that they are ever asked to make. These criteria can help.

Any nation with vast power will be tempted to use it. In this respect, the United States is exceptional because its power is so immense. Small, weak countries avoid fighting in distant disputes; the risk that troops, ships, or planes sent elsewhere will be unavailable for defense of the homeland generally keeps these nations focused on more proximate dangers. The U.S. government, by contrast, doesn’t have to worry that deploying U.S. forces abroad might leave America vulnerable to attack by powerful adversaries.

There is another factor that explains the United States’ propensity to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy: Americans are a generous people, and we like helping others. We have often responded favorably when others appeal to us for assistance. Many Americans look back proudly on the moments in the middle and latter half of the 20th century when the U.S. military provided the crucial margin of victory over Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union.

But, in recent years, Americans have grown more reluctant to send U.S. troops hither and yon. There is a growing appreciation of the fact that Washington’s willingness to intervene abroad – from Somalia and the Balkans in the 1990s, to Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s, to Libya and Yemen in the present decades – has often undermined U.S. security. We have become embroiled in disputes that we don’t understand and rarely can control. Thus, public anxiety about becoming sucked into another Middle Eastern civil war effectively blocked overt U.S. intervention in Syria in 2013, notwithstanding President Obama’s ill-considered red line warning to Bashar al Assad.

But while the American people are unenthusiastic about armed intervention, especially when it might involve U.S. ground troops, most Washington-based policy elites retain their activist instincts. They believe that U.S. military intervention generally advances global security and that the absence of U.S. leadership invites chaos. The essays in this series, “Course Correction,” have documented the many reasons why these assumptions might not be true. The authors have urged policymakers to consider other ways for the United States to remain engaged globally – ways that do not obligate the American people to bear all the costs and that do not obligate U.S. troops to bear all the risks.

But the authors do not presume that the United States must never wage war. There are indeed times when it should. Policymakers should, however, keep five specific guidelines in mind before supporting military intervention, especially the use of ground troops. Doing so would discipline our choices, would clearly signal when the U.S. military is likely to be deployed abroad, and could empower others to act when the United States does not.

Vital U.S. National Security Interest at Stake

The United States should not send U.S. troops into harm’s way unless a vital U.S. national security interest is at stake. Unfortunately, the consensus in Washington defines U.S. national security interests too broadly. Protecting the physical security of the territory of the United States and ensuring the safety of its people are vital national security interests. Advancing U.S. prosperity is an important goal, but it is best achieved by peaceful means, most importantly through trade and other forms of voluntary exchange. Similarly, the U.S. military should generally not be used to spread U.S. values, such as liberal democracy and human rights. It should be focused on defending this country from physical threats. The military should be poised to deter attacks and to fight and win the nation’s wars if deterrence fails.

The criterion offered here is more stringent, for example, than the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, which held that U.S. troops should not be sent overseas “unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to our national interest or that of our allies.” By effectively equating U.S. national interests with those of our allies, it allowed for a range of interventions that would not be considered automatically valid under the guidelines spelled out here.  Policymakers should not risk the lives of U.S. troops to protect others’ interests as though those interests were our own.

Clear National Consensus

The American people must understand why they are being asked to risk blood and treasure and, crucially, they must have a say in whether to do so. The U.S. military should not be engaged in combat operations overseas unless there is a clear national consensus behind the mission.

Although modern technology allows constituents to communicate their policy preferences easily, traditional methods are just as effective in ascertaining whether the American people support the use of force. We should rely on the tool written into the Constitution: the stipulation that Congress alone, not the president, possesses the power to take the country to war.

As Gene Healy notes in this series, Congress has regularly evaded its obligations. Although the U.S. military has been in a continuous state of war over the past 15 years, few in Congress have ever weighed in publicly on the wisdom or folly of any particular foreign conflict. Some now interpret Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty or United Nations Security Council resolutions as obligating the United States to wage war without explicit authorization from Congress. This is unacceptable. The president may repel attacks against the United States, but the authority to deploy U.S. forces abroad, and to engage in preemptive or preventative wars of choice, resides with Congress — and by extension the people — of the United States.

Understanding of the Costs—and How to Pay Them

We must also understand the costs of war and know how we will pay them before we choose to go down that path. We cannot accurately gauge popular support for a given military intervention overseas if the case for war is built on unrealistic expectations and best-case scenarios. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and there is certainly no such thing as a free war.

Deficit spending allows the federal government to pretend otherwise. Politicians make promises, with bills coming due long after they’ve left office. But we should expect more when it comes to the use of force. Advocates for a military intervention should be forced to frame their solution in relation to costs and benefits. The debit side of the ledger includes the long-term costs of care for the veterans of the conflict. Hawks must also explain what government expenditures should be cut – or taxes increased – to pay for their war. The American people should have the final say in choosing whether additional military spending to prosecute minor, distant conflicts is worth the cost, including the opportunity costs: the crucial domestic priorities that must be forgone or future taxes paid.

Clear and Obtainable Military Objectives

We cannot compare the costs or wisdom of going to war if we do not know what our troops will be asked to do. The U.S. military should never be sent into harm’s way without a set of clear and obtainable military objectives.

Such considerations do not apply when a country’s survival is at stake. But wars of choice — the types of wars that the United States has fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere — are different. Advocates for such wars must demonstrate not only that the fight is necessary to secure vital U.S. interests, that it has public support, and that it has funding, but also that the military’s mission is defined and attainable.

Military victory is rarely sufficient, however, as our recent wars and interventions demonstrate. In the case of regime-change wars, ensuring that a successful transition to a stable, friendly government occurs can take a considerable amount of time and resources. Whatever replaces the defeated forces must represent a marked improvement in order for the war to advance U.S. vital interests. U.S. leaders, therefore, must not only define the military objective, but also detail what the resultant peace will look like, and how we will know the mission is complete.

It is easy for Washington to start wars, but we cannot leave U.S. troops on the hook for ending them. Policymakers must account for the tendency of war to drag on for years or more, and they must plan for an acceptable exit strategy before committing troops.

Use of Force as a Last Resort

The four criteria above are not enough to establish a war’s legitimacy, or the wisdom of waging it. After all, modern nation-states have the ability to wreak unimaginable horror on a massive scale. That obviously doesn’t imply that they should. Thus, the fifth and final rule concerning military intervention is force should be used only as a last resort, after we have exhausted other means for resolving a foreign policy challenge that threatens vital U.S. national security interests.

This point is informed by centuries-old concepts of justice. Civilized societies abhor war, even those waged for the right reasons while adhering to widely respected norms, such as proportionality and reasonable protections for noncombatants. War, given its uncertainty and destructiveness, should never be entered into lightly or for trivial reasons.

America has an exceptional capacity for waging war. U.S. policymakers therefore have a particular obligation to remember that war is a last resort. Precisely because no one else is likely to constrain them, they must constrain themselves.

Conclusion

U.S. foreign policy should contain a built-in presumption against the use of force. That does not mean that war is never the answer, but rather that it is rarely the best answer. Americans today enjoy a measure of safety that our ancestors would envy and that our contemporaries do envy. We generally do not need to wage war to keep it that way. On the contrary, some recent wars have degraded the U.S. military and undermined our security. Policymakers should therefore be extremely reluctant to risk American lives abroad.

The U.S. military is the finest fighting force in the world; it comprises dedicated professionals who are willing and able to fight almost anywhere, practically on a moment’s notice. Any military large enough to defend our vital national security interests will always be capable of intervening in distant disputes. But that does not mean that it should.”

New Rules for U.S. Military Intervention

Corruption Lessons from US Experience in Afghanistan

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Image:  Politifact.com

“POGO”

“The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released the first in a series of reports imparting lessons from the 15-year, $115 billion Afghanistan reconstruction effort.

The core lesson:  establish an anti-corruption strategy before plunging into nation-rebuilding.

The report, Corruption in Conflict: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan, is a review of how effectively the US government—primarily the Departments of Defense (DoD), State, Treasury, and Justice, and the US Agency for International Development—responded to corruption in Afghanistan reconstruction spending. SIGAR identifies six key lessons that will hopefully inform future contingency operations, and makes recommendations for executive and legislative action.

The report defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted authority for private gain,” as exemplified by such acts as bribery, embezzlement, extortion, fraud, and nepotism. It asserts that, while certain forms of corruption have been a part of Afghan culture for centuries, the problem grew to epic proportions after 2001. SIGAR faults the US-led reconstruction effort in three respects: by rapidly injecting billions of dollars into the Afghan economy without adequate oversight, by failing to recognize the scope and severity of corruption, and by subordinating anticorruption efforts to short-term security and political goals.

The recommendation that seems most sensible (to provide the most bang for the buck, if you will) is for the agencies to establish a “joint vendor vetting unit” to more carefully screen contingency operation contractors and grantees. For reconstruction missions to succeed, international aid money must be kept out of the hands of what SIGAR calls “malign powerbrokers”—those who thrive off corruption, such as local warlords, crooked government officials, and insurgents. Robust screening of recipients will also help ensure reconstruction funds aren’t lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.

The United States will remain engaged in Afghanistan for several more years, and it will likely embark on relief efforts in other war-torn countries as well. It is therefore critical that the government heed the lessons collected over the years by its watchdogs: the Commission on Wartime Contracting, which ceased operations in September 2011, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which closed its doors in October 2013, and SIGAR, which will carry on until appropriated funding for the reconstruction drops below $250 million.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2016/09/government-watchdog-identifies-lessons-from-afghanistan-reconstruction.html

 

Military Victory is Dead

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“MODERN WAR INSTITUTE AT WEST POINT”

“Victory’s been defeated; it’s time we recognized that and moved on to what we actually can accomplish.

We’ve reached the end of victory’s road, and at this juncture it’s time to embrace other terms, a less-loaded lexicon, like “strategic advantage,” “relative gain,” and “sustainable marginalization.”

A few weeks back, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Harvard Professor Steven Pinker triumphantly announced the peace deal between the government of Columbia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). While positive, this declaration rings hollow as the exception that proves the rule – a tentative treaty, however, at the end, roughly 7,000 guerrillas held a country of 50 million hostage over 50 years at a cost of some 220,000 lives. Churchill would be aghast: Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.

One reason this occasion merited a more somber statement: military victory is dead. And it was killed by a bunch of cheap stuff.

The term “victory” is loaded, so let’s stipulate it means unambiguous, unchallenged, and unquestioned strategic success – something more than a “win,” because, while one might “eke out a win,” no one “ekes out a victory.” Wins are represented by a mere letter (“w”); victory is a tickertape with tanks.

Which is something I’ll never see in my military career; I should explain. When a government has a political goal that cannot be obtained other than by force, the military gets involved and selects some objective designed to obtain said goal. Those military objectives can be classified broadly, as Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz did, into either a limited aim (i.e. “occupy some…frontier-districts” to use “for bargaining”), or a larger aim to completely disarm the enemy, “render[ing] him politically helpless or military impotent.” Lo, we’ve arrived at the problem: War has become so inexpensive that anyone can afford the traditional military means of strategic significance – so we can never fully disarm the enemy. And a perpetually armed enemy means no more parades (particularly in Nice).

Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.

It’s a buyer’s market in war, and the baseline capabilities (shoot, move, and communicate) are at snake-belly prices. Tactical weaponry, like AK-47s are plentiful, rented, and shipped from battlefield to battlefield, and the most lethal weapon U.S. forces encountered at the height of the Iraq War, the improvised explosive device, could be had for as little as $265. Moving is cost-effective too in the “pickup truck era of warfare,” and reports on foreign fighters in Syria remind us that cheap, global travel makes it possible for nearly anyone on the planet to rapidly arrive in an active war zone with money to spare. Also, while the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba shut down the megacity Mumbai in 2008 for less than what many traveling youth soccer teams spend in a season, using unprotected social media networks, communication has gotten even easier for the emerging warrior with today’s widely available unhackable phones and apps. These low and no-cost commo systems are the glue that binds single wolves into coordinated wolf-packs with guns, exponentially greater than the sum of their parts. The good news: Ukraine can crowdfund aerial surveillance against Russian incursions. The less-good news: strikes, like 9/11, cost less than three seconds of a single Super Bowl ad. With prices so low, why would anyone ever give up their fire, maneuver, and control platforms?

All of which explains why military victory has gone away. Consider the Middle East, and the recent comment by a Hezbollah leader, “This can go on for a hundred years,” and his comrade’s complementary analysis, that “as long as we are there, nobody will win.” With such a modestly priced war stock on offer, it’s no wonder Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agrees with the insurgents, recently concluding, of the four wars currently burning across the region, the U.S. has “no prospect” of strategic victory in any. Or that Modern War Institute scholar Andrew Bacevich assesses bluntly, “If winning implies achieving stated political objectives, U.S. forces don’t win.” This is what happens when David’s slingshot is always full.

The guerrillas know what many don’t: It’s the era, stupid. This is the nature of the age, as Joshua Cooper Ramos describes, “a nightmare reality in which we must fight adaptive microthreats and ideas, both of which appear to be impossible to destroy even with the most expensive weapons.” Largely correct, one point merits minor amendment – it’s meaningless to destroy when it’s so cheap to get back in the game, a hallmark of a time in which Wolverine-like regeneration is regular.

This theme even extends to more civilized conflicts. Take the Gawker case: begrudged hedge fund giant Peter Thiel funded former wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the journalistic insurrectionists at Gawker Media, which forced the website’s writers to lay down their keyboards. However, as author Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out – Gawker’s leader, Nick Denton, can literally walk across the street, with a few dollars, and start right over. Another journalist opined, “Mr. Thiel’s victory was a hollow one – you might even say he lost. While he may have killed Gawker, its sensibility and influence on the rest of the news business survive.” Perhaps Thiel should have waited 50 more years, as Columbia had to, to write his “victory” op-ed? He may come to regret the essay as his own “Mission Accomplished” moment.

True with websites, so it goes with warfare. We live in the cheap war era, where the attacker has the advantage and the violent veto is always possible. Political leaders can speak and say tough stuff, promise ruthless revenge – it doesn’t matter, ultimately, because if you can’t disarm the enemy, you can’t parade the tanks.”

Military Victory is Dead

 

“Jig Saw” – Google’s Plan to Stop Aspiring ISIS Recruits

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“WIRED”

“Perhaps one of world’s most dangerous problems of ignorance and indoctrination can be solved in part by doing what Google does best:

Helping people find what they most need to see.

Google has built a half-trillion-dollar business out of divining what people want based on a few words they type into a search field. In the process, it’s stumbled on a powerful tool for getting inside the minds of some of the least understood and most dangerous people on the Internet: potential ISIS recruits. Now one subsidiary of Google is trying not just to understand those would-be jihadis’ intentions, but to change them.

Jigsaw, the Google-owned tech incubator and think tank—until recently known as Google Ideas—has been working over the past year to develop a new program it hopes can use a combination of Google’s search advertising algorithms and YouTube’s video platform to target aspiring ISIS recruits and ultimately dissuade them from joining the group’s cult of apocalyptic violence. The program, which Jigsaw calls the Redirect Method and plans to launch in a new phase this month, places advertising alongside results for any keywords and phrases that Jigsaw has determined people attracted to ISIS commonly search for. Those ads link to Arabic- and English-language YouTube channels that pull together preexisting videos Jigsaw believes can effectively undo ISIS’s brainwashing—clips like testimonials from former extremists, imams denouncing ISIS’s corruption of Islam, and surreptitiously filmed clips inside the group’s dysfunctional caliphate in Northern Syria and Iraq.

“This came out of an observation that there’s a lot of online demand for ISIS material, but there are also a lot of credible organic voices online debunking their narratives,” says Yasmin Green, Jigsaw’s head of research and development. “The Redirect Method is at its heart a targeted advertising campaign: Let’s take these individuals who are vulnerable to ISIS’ recruitment messaging and instead show them information that refutes it.”

The results, in a pilot project Jigsaw ran early this year, were surprisingly effective: Over the course of about two months, more than 300,000 people were drawn to the anti-ISIS YouTube channels. Searchers actually clicked on Jigsaw’s three or four times more often than a typical ad campaign. Those who clicked spent more than twice as long viewing the most effective playlists than the best estimates of how long people view YouTube as a whole. And this month, along with the London-based startup Moonshot Countering Violent Extremism and the US-based Gen Next Foundation, Jigsaw plans to relaunch the program in a second phase that will focus its method on North American extremists, applying the method to both potential ISIS recruits and violent white supremacists.

An Antidote to Extremism’s Infection

While tech firms have been struggling for years to find countermeasures to extremist content, ISIS’ digital propaganda machine has set a new standard for aggressive online recruitment. Twitter has banned hundreds of thousands of accounts only to see them arise again—manymigrating to the more private service Telegram—while other services like YouTube and Facebook have fought an endless war of content removal to keep the group’s vile beheading and immolation videos offline. But attempts to intercept the disaffected young Muslims attracted to that propaganda and offer them a counternarrative—actual protection against the group’s siren song—have mostly amounted to public service announcements. Those PSA series have included the U.S. State Department’s campaign called Think Again, Turn Away and the blunt messaging of the cartoon series Average Mohammed.

Those campaigns are likely only effective for dissuading the audience least indoctrinated by ISIS’s messages, argues Green, who’s interviewed jailed ISIS recruits in Britain and defectors in an Iraqi prison. “Further down the funnel are the people who are sympathetic, maybe ideologically committed, maybe even already in the caliphate,” says Green. “That’s Jigsaw’s focus.”

To capture the people already drawn into ISIS’ orbit, Jigsaw took a less direct approach. Rather than create anti-ISIS messages, the team curates them from YouTube. “We thought, what if the content exists already?” says Green. “We knew if it wasn’t created explicitly for this purpose, it would be more authentic and therefore more compelling.”

Testing the Theory

Jigsaw and two partners on the pilot project, Moonshot CVE and the Lebanese firm Quantum Communications, assembled two playlists of videos they found in both Arabic and English, ranging from moderate Muslim clerics pointing out ISIS’s hypocrisy to footage of long food lines in the ISIS’s Syrian stronghold Raqqa.

Another video in Jigsaw’s playlist shows an elderly woman excoriating members of ISIS and quoting the Koran to them:

Jigsaw chose more than 1,700 keywords that triggered ads leading to their anti-ISIS playlists. Green and her team focused on terms they believed the most committed ISIS recruits would search for: names of waypoints on travel routes to ISIS territory, phrases like “Fatwa [edict] for jihad in Syria” and names of extremist leaders who had preached ISIS recruitment. The actual text of the search ads, however, took a light-touch approach, with phrases like “Is ISIS Legitimate?” or “Want to Join ISIS?” rather than explicit anti-ISIS messages.

Measuring the actual effects of the campaign in dissuading ISIS recruits isn’t easy. But Jigsaw and its partners found that they at least captured searchers’ attention. The clickthrough rates on some of the ads were more than 9 percent, they say, compared with averages around 2 or 3 percent in the average Google keyword advertising campaign. They also discovered that the hundreds of thousands of searchers spent a total of half a million minutes watching the videos they collected, with the most effective videos getting as much as 8 minutes and 20 seconds average viewing time.

But Could It Work?

Jigsaw’s program is far from a comprehensive solution to ISIS’s online recruitment, says Humera Khan, the executive director of the Islamic deradicalization group Muflehun. She points out that both Google and Facebook have trained anti-extremism non-profits in the past on how to use their keyword advertising, though perhaps without the deep involvement in targeting, curating and promoting video Jigsaw is trying. More importantly, she argues, attracting ISIS sympathizers to a video playlist is only the first step. “If they can hook people in, can they keep them coming back with new and relevant content? That’ll be important,” says Khan. Eventually, any successful deradicalization effort also needs human interaction, too, and a supportive community backing up the person’s decision to turn away from extremism. “This sounds like a good piece of the solution. But it’s not all of it.”

From a national security perspective, Jigsaw’s work raises another glaring question: Why not target would-be ISIS recruits for surveillance and even arrest instead? After all, intercepting ISIS sympathizers could not only rescue those recruits themselves, but the future victims of their violence in terrorist attacks or genocidal massacres in ISIS’s bloody sphere of influence. On that question, Jigsaw’s Green answers carefully that “social media platforms including YouTube have a responsibility to cooperate [with] the governments’ lawful requests, and there are processes in place to do that.” Translation? Google likely already helps get some of these people arrested. The company, after all, handed over some data in 64 percent of the more than 40,000 government requests for its users’ data in the second half of last year.

But Green says that the Redirect Method, beyond guiding ISIS admirers to its videos, doesn’t seek to track them further or identify them, and isn’t designed to lead to arrests or surveillance, so much as education.  “These are people making decisions based on partial, bad information,” says Green. “We can affect the problem of foreign fighters joining the Islamic State by arming individuals with more and better information.” She describes the campaign’s work as a kind of extension of Google’s core mission “to make the world’s information accessible and useful.”

Google’s Clever Plan to Stop Aspiring ISIS Recruits

 

 

Iraq And The Cost of Geopolitical Hubris

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“NEW YORK TIMES”

“These leaders created a false case for invading Iraq and then utterly mismanaged the occupation.

It seems a long time ago, and in a world far, far away, that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, enthusiastically supported by Tony Blair, went to war with Iraq.

Yet now a long and long-overdue British report into Britain’s role in that war, the report of the official and independent Iraq Inquiry Committee led by John Chilcot, has been published, reopening wounds and forcing Mr. Blair back into the limelight to defend why, despite so much evidence and advice against joining in the Bush administration’s misguided enthusiasm for invading Iraq, he chose as prime minister to throw his full support behind America.

Mr. Blair’s message to Mr. Bush at the time — “I will be with you, whatever” — leaps out painfully from the report’s 2.6 million words, proclaiming a blind loyalty that the Iraq war only helped erode, and that seems especially archaic now that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has raised questions about its role in NATO and its place as America’s closest European ally.

Mr. Blair’s critics are no doubt disappointed that in response to theChilcot report, he has continued to defend his actions. “I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer as a result of it,” he said, which seems willfully blind to the current chaos in Iraq and beyond. But if he would not confess that he erred in his decision, he did acknowledge, “There’s not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about it.”

His plea for understanding the context in which he made his decision to stand with the United States, the confusion and the need for action after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, seems tragically inadequate and self-serving with so many lives lost — more than 200 Britons, at least 4,500 Americans and more than 150,000 Iraqis, most of them civilians — and so much treasure spent prosecuting a war that was built on falsehoods.

While there have been no consequences for Mr. Blair himself, the political judgment of the British has been decisive, rendering the Iraq war as a defining blot on Mr. Blair’s 10 years in office.

The report should not be read as an indictment only of Mr. Blair’s foolish decision. Though the United States was not the subject of the inquiry, it was the Bush administration that falsely sold and launched the invasion. There has been no comparable, comprehensive official inquiry in Washington by independent investigators into the origin and politics of the fateful decision to go to war. Years have passed, but the public, in the United States and abroad, still yearns for the full truth and deserves an American investigation on the scale of the 9/11 Commission.

Given the partisan divide in Washington, however, it is hard to believe a similar exercise would produce anything even remotely dispassionate or honest. And yet it is the United States, far more than Britain, that needs to understand how national policy can be hijacked by lies and ideology so that there’s less chance it will happen again.”